U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, visited White Sulfur Springs on Monday to tour the newly-constructed “Schoolhouse Hotel.” On hand to personally guide the tour was Charles Hammerman, president and CEO of the New York-based Disability Opportunity Fund (DOF), the organization behind the hotel project.
According to a statement from the DOF, the project, which began some 18-months ago, “will transform the historic WSS High School into a hub for the community and visitors alike.” Once completed, the Schoolhouse Hotel, designed by architectural-firm Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates, will be the “world’s first hotel where every room is adapted for use by disabled people.”
The tour began in the hotel lobby, where Manchin was given a first-hand look at the multi-level reception desk, conceived to be accessible from either an upright or seated position. The counter’s design allows for better service to those reliant upon a wheelchair.
“The other added part to it is the technology that we’re bringing in,” Hammerman told Manchin. “Let’s say one of your constituents comes in and they need American sign language, but the person we have behind the desk doesn’t know American sign language. We have a little iPad where you can push one button, and in literally 10-seconds somebody will be there who can speak American sign language.”
The tour then proceeded down a hallway which will soon feature memorabilia salvaged from the old high school, before providing Manchin with his first look of a nearly-completed guest room. Hammerman took the opportunity to show off the room’s large, wheelchair-friendly bathroom door, as well as the touchpad door-latch feature.
“The beauty is that you (West Virginia) are the home to the first ever (fully disabled-accessible hotel),” Hammerman said. “And we’re going to keep inviting the rest of the world to come and see this.”
After being shown the hotel’s bar and restaurant area, Manchin was led into the ballroom, where he greeted many of the contractors responsible for the building’s conversion from dilapidated high school to world-class hotel.
After unveiling the fully-restored original 110-year-old schoolhouse bell which will be preserved within the hotel’s lobby, Manchin took the microphone to briefly address the room.
“White Sulphur sits right here,” Manchin began. “And the world-famous Greenbrier is right up here. Did the two ever intertwine? You didn’t see the town getting the benefits of all these people coming here. And then the 2016 flood hit.”
Manchin then shared some personal tragedies from the flood before moving on, saying: “The town was devastated. I walked Main Street at that time. And to see what you all have been able to do, and the resilience that people have, and West Virginians are known for that. We don’t give up – we can’t give up.”
From there, Manchin broadened his remarks beyond those relating specifically to the flood.
“We’ve always said ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act),” Manchin continued. “But when you think about those of us, by the grace of God, who take for granted the health that we have – if you have health, you have all the wealth in the world. What you all are doing here is showing that anybody with any type of a disability can enjoy the quality and the fruits of life that so many of us take for granted. I think to have it in West Virginia – more importantly, to have it in Greenbrier County, to have it in White Sulphur Springs, is pretty special.”
“There’s a lot happening in the world, I don’t need to tell you,” Manchin went on to say. “If you watch television, we have a troubled world and we have a divided country. But the country is not so much divided as far as our people, it’s our politics that are divided. Just don’t let them divide you, that’s all I can tell you. We’ve got to be one people for one purpose. The American dream should be alive for everybody. We’re still the best. We are the best in the world. We’ve got to make sure that everybody knows it – that everyone has an opportunity.”
After leaving the hotel, Hammerman led Manchin on a short walk down White Sulphur Springs’ Main Street, where the senator stopped in to visit with several store owners. Lunch was then served at the GreenRiver Academy, the first private school for special-needs children to open in West Virginia.